Christmas is a magical time, and as a child growing up it was even more so in the 50’s and 60’s. Then the day was still a big day in the Christian life for all of us, as we celebrated the birth of Christ. Today it is about buying, and very little to do with the Christian faith. We try too hard not to be offensive to people that are not Christians, and the governments, businesses and school boards make every effort to turn it from a religious holiday into first a commercial, and then a secular holiday.
I am not here to compare or be an expert on Christmas, but to look back at how I grew up in Old Aiyansh with my grandparents, and how they celebrated December 25th and the days leading up to the holiday. Children grow up in believing in fantasies and wonder. Using one’s imagination about the world around you was always a mysterious and amazing way of playing. This is what I felt as a child in my little village as a happy kid. Yes, we had our problems in the village with disadvantaged families and problems with some people misusing alcohol, but we children were in our own world.
I lived with my grandparents and my Uncle Percy and his wife in a house that I thought was a big and wonderful house. I shared a room with my grandparents. My uncle and my auntie had a room with their children. Therefore I never lacked for someone to play with at home. I was also very close to two of my cousins who were like my brothers. We did lot fun things together and we helped at home like chopping wood, getting water from the well and feeding our horses Bubbles and Lucky. Lucky got his name because he was born on Christmas Eve. That was an exciting event that added to our Christmas Eve celebrations.
My grandparents were people who were very important in my formative years - two very religious people who had absolute belief in God and the Bible. Were they fanatical? No. But they were committed to God and deeply spiritual, and that was carried throughout our family. My grandfather was a lay reader, and both my grandparents sang in the choir. Though they had to send my older brother away to Residential School, they put their faith in God.
Christmas was a very special day in our Christian lives. We went to Christmas Eve Mass, and in the morning to Mass as well. Yes, Christmas was simple and so meaningful to our souls and to God. Though we didn’t have much money, I always thought we had a rich life with my grandparents.
The village was on the Nass River and far away from any stores, so one of our biggest excitements was when the Sears and Eaton’s Christmas catalogues came out in November. The next highlight was the arrival of the Japanese oranges in two wooden boxes tied together with twine. So simple were our lives, but so much fun for us.
We played in the snow, sledding down a hill in the middle of our village or making tunnels in the snow. When my grandmother called me for supper, which I ignored, I had to do extra chores for me not going home when my granny called me. The snow was so pure and white because we did not have cars in those days. Our mode of transportation was the horse, for us to get our wood and to go hunting.
We had special events a week prior to December 25th. Each night the village had entertainment by different groups like the Yuletide Committee, YWCA, the Silver Harmonic Band and other community groups that entertained us all before Christmas. Throughout the week’s events children could win a little brown paper bag of candies and peanuts and oranges if we sat still throughout the evening’s entertainment.
On the last night of all the entertainment, the children put on an event with Santa Claus showing up and giving us a bag of goodies at the end of our show.
One special night was when the church choir went from house to house to sing spiritual Christmas songs to us. Christmas was a community event for all families, so that no one felt left out. Everyone was important in our village. Everyone was valued, and each and every one had a role and ability to contribute to Christmas.
The spirit of Christmas was a community celebration and an important sharing time for all people in our community. God had given us the opportunity to love one another. Yes, life was simpler, but it was a very rich time in our lives. So many of our people believed in the birth of Jesus on December 25th and it was important to our well-being as a community. The village was united under our belief in celebrating the birth of Christ in a communal way that I have never seen since my years of growing up as a child in Aiyansh. We lived in a small, isolated community far from the cities of Terrace or Prince Rupert, but in the 1950s and 60s, Christmas was unsurpassed because of the amount of heart and love that was put into this cherished time that happens once a year.